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what makes a good chili?

  • s

Hi guys,

I'm throwing a gathering with only two dishes, one of which is chili.

So, i'm tossing it out there --- what makes a phenomenal chili?

danke in advance,

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  1. The rhapsody that can be chili. I just made a pot last night. If what follows seems to your taste I'll email the recipe in full. I make TEXAS chili. That is: chiles and beef(and, for some a sacriledge, beans). Chili is not about stock, it's not about water, its not even about great meat. Chili is the essence of good chili powders heated until aromatic with bacon, onion, and a bit of tomato paste(some would even argue with the addition of ANY tomato).
    Chili is the addition of well-browned chuck cubes and their juice to the pseudo-roux. Chili is long-simmered. Chili is lime-blessed, sour-cream-enrobed, fiery-sword-of-jalapeno-wielding god.

    5 Replies
    1. re: malcarne

      It sounds like it's to my taste, and probably many others. Maybe you could share it withall of us.

      1. re: malcarne

        I'll second all that Malcarne posted and just add the following hints:

        - You can get excellent cumin seeds at Indian markets at a fraction of what you pay in the supermarket. If you grind your own cumin it makes a world of difference. I use a coffee grinder dedicated for spices.

        - Lately I've gotten a bit retentive about my powders and make my own. I buy pods at my local bodega, dry them out on a rack in the oven overnight with the pilot only, remove the stems and seeds, grind and sift. Yeah, it is a lot of work, but at least you know that you're getting 100% pod flesh. If you have a good NewMex source and can get Chimayo reasonably fresh then by all means skip that step but it's a good technique to know if you get in a jam. (I started doing it when I couldn't find any Pasilla powder but could get the pods easily.)

        1. re: Tongo Rad

          If grinding your own cumin try "toasting" the seeds first in a dry fry pan, you'll smell when they are ready.

        2. re: malcarne

          That was just a chili manifesto :). I agree with most of what's been posted. Cumin, yes. Good chile powders(It's a hassel to grind your own, but sometimes I'm in the mood). Thankfully, you can find various pure chili powders in reputable spice markets like Penzey's or The Spice House(or some supermercados, for that matter). I haven't done the chocolate thing. It seems too close to mole for me, but I'll probably try it after all the recommendations.
          I DO add mexican oregano, whole garlic cloves, pre-salted/peppered/seared chuck cubes, a bit of paprika(sometimes), enough cayenne for flavor and moderate heat(I slice in the jalapenos/serranos per my bowl...others can't stand the heat).
          I tend to use light red kidney beans, but I've tried just about every bean except garbanzos(too foofy for chili) over the years.
          A little masa harina rounds out the sometime sharpness of the chilis. I don't use masa as a thickening agent. After long-simmering the chili should be thick enough on its own. During the simmering process continually check the pot and add water, beer, tequila, etc. to keep the beef at a nice braise(not completely submerged/not drying out). Beans and masa go in last, of course.
          Top with lime juice, hot peppers(sometimes canned are good with their vinegar/pickling juice), cilantro, freshly-grated sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, salty tortilla chips OR just enjoy it straight.
          Beware: A good chili makes a monster stain.

          1. re: malcarne

            A couple of things that slipped my mind: after searing brown on at least one side the beef cubes and removing to a bowl saute' one whole, diced onion(white or sweet) in/over the fond and, hopefully little, remaining CANOLA oil. The onions will sweat and loosen the fond(so any liquids added later are for flavor NOT for loosening the fond...that's my method...of course there are others who prefer to deglaze the traditional way). Once the onions are translucent I drop in a few whole, smashed garlic cloves.
            I then dump in my spices. I warm them as they become a paste. Then I add a dollop of tomato paste and do the same. In goes the chuck and juices. Canned tomato sauce (small can)or water IF needed or wanted. Beer, tequila can follow. Then simmer for 2-3 hours or longer.

            As for smokiness: I'm not always in the mood for it BUT
            a slice or two of bacon saute'd and removed might be added before the beef. Or, more often, I add a little
            chipotle in adobo(accent on a "little") to the warming, aromatic spice/tomato paste.

        3. Excellent quality, fresh-as-possible, ground New Mexico chiles .. preferably from Chimayo ... not "chile powder".
          And the addition of some canned chipotle in adobo ... for a big pot I usually add 2 or 3, finely chopped, plus some of the adobo sauce. A bit of apple cider vinegar too, just a dribble.

          1. z
            Zach Georgopoulos

            Ground Cumin is an essential spice, especially if you're not using chili powder.

            I've been making the same chili recipe for years, and I never tire of it. But it took several recipes and variations to really nail it down. Start with a basic recipe, and experiment freely -- you can never have enough chili cookouts...

            1. Lots of toppings for guest to add. Sliced Avocado, grated cheese, sour cream, chopped onion, sliced jalapenos, fritos, black olives, roasted peppers, etc.

              1 Reply
              1. re: em

                All these are great but a squeeze of a lime wedge is essential!

              2. Beer, beef stock, and molasses.

                Have a great gathering

                1. Texas or Cincinnati?

                  1. TIME!

                    Slow, long simmer. Plus, try to make it in advance if possible. They always seem to taste better to me if I can make it a day or 2 in advance. I've made some chilis that tasted OK the day I made them, but the flavors blended together wonderfully after sitting in the fridge for at least a day :).

                    1. 1. Make it yesterday -- it needs to rest overnight to get more suave and sophisticated.

                      2. Definitely include cumin along with a generous amount of the chile powder.

                      3. Some fresh little chiles (a judicious amount - say two jalapenos per 3 lbs. of meat) sparks things up. Unless you want to be cautious re the hot stuff for your guests' sake, then leave them out and put out a little bottle of Mexican salsa muy picante for those of us who like to fire it up.

                      4. Red bell pepper adds color and flavor. Do not use green bell pepper. Keep the red happening.

                      5. Some garlic, added a few minutes before serving will perfume things nicely. A handful of chopped cilantro, mixed in just before serving adds a nice fresh note.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Sharuf

                        And one more thing ...

                        If you are making your pot of red with beans, do NOT use kidney beans!!! Pintos or little red beans are the proper traditional ones. Kidney beans are too large and gross. They have a tougher skin. You don't want your chili to resemble that pre-fab stuff from a distributor they ladle out at lunch counters and cafeterias.

                        1. re: Sharuf

                          Wow. I googled "deglaze with mezcal chili" and found your post I did it for my pot today and it worked fantastic. I wanted to share it but you beat me to it!

                      2. Besides the obvious long cooking time, a decent amount of cumin and several different types of chiles both hot and mild the number one thing is: Add chocolate.

                        Either cocoa powder or plain ole Hersheys chocolate syrup. No one will be able to figure out that it's there but it creates a whole other dimension. It is the secret ingredient of many of the award winning chili recipes.

                        Another one is to deglaze the pan with Tequila after you fry the meat, preferably a flavorful but not too expensive mezcal like Cuervo. Lots of it. It will cook out, but it leaves a great hint of a deeper complexity.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: The Rogue

                          Sometimes I shave in some of that mexican chocolate used to make mexican hot chocolate. It comes in little paper wrapped blocks and is flavored with cinnamon.

                          Unsweetened bakers chocolate is good too.

                          The trick is finding the right amount so that it's not obvious the line into mole territory is being crossed.

                        2. I make my chili with beans (kidney), but instead of using regular canned or dry, I use baked kidney beans. I've used both B&M and Friends brands. It adds a sweet/smoky flavor, but by no means overwhelmingly so.

                          1. I like to make chili with finely diced beef (not ground beef), kidney beans, black beans and corn (along with all the usual spices, of course) - I like the addition of the black beans and the corn for a nice flavor and just something different from all the usual chilis ......

                            1. I love all of this, but....

                              How about your favorite recipes or links to them? Please!

                              Not easy to make great chili here in France, but I'd like to give it a good try.


                              1. You can add corn if you must, but never never ever beans.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: laliz

                                  how funny...........
                                  I was gonna add always always always add beans.... :)

                                  1. re: iL Divo

                                    +1...gotta have beans in there. I like to use red beans or pink beans. Fresh, whole spices, toasted and then ground at the time of use. Garlic out the wazoo. Definitely a trace of cocoa powder for depth and deep color.

                                    I also like to make mine with a mix of beef and pork. All beef chili just doesn't cut it for me. If you're not using cut chunks of meat, then it should be either coarsely ground or better still, coarsely chopped (as in a food processor). In the case of ground or chopped meat, I like to preseason the meat to help it bind and pre-brown it in good size chunks . During the summer I'll form it into large patties, throw them on the grill, then chop the patties up and put them into the stew. That add's a nice smoky note.

                                    I hate chili that has been thickened too much...just a bit of masa in there does the trick, but it definitely shouldn't be overly thick and gloppy.

                                    GOTTA have the beans though. Opinions differ, but to me, it just isn't good chili without some kind of beans in there. If you can put a few different kinds of beans in, all the better.

                                2. beef (diced or chili grind)

                                  chile peppers (powdered, fresh, pureed)

                                  spices (almost unlimited, but oregano, cumin, salt and garlic are musts)

                                  secret ingredients (one or two unusual items to provide interesting background notes)

                                  liquid (beef and/or chicken broth, and possibly a bit of tomato sauce)

                                  thickener (masa harina, arrowroot, etc.)

                                  That's all that is required. Leave out the beans and other veggies, with the possible exception of onion.

                                  1. The ingredients other than the meat, beans (Goya small red), onion and tomatoes are the key. I use: One can of beer. Garlic, cumin, "Better than Bouillon" beef paste (or gravy master). But the big key is the chili mix. I use Gebhardts chili powder, Fort Worth Light (Pendery's) and one Tblsp mole. The mole adds a bit of chocolate. If I want more, Hershey's. I do not use tomato paste. Too much acidity. If you want a smoky flavor try smoked paprika. And hot sauce to taste. Let it cook in a slow cooker for 4 hours and add a slurry of masa harina toward the end. Sometimes I throw in a whole carrot (removed at end) to cut the acid. Sour cream to top it off and a good bread.

                                    1. The cookbooks I have used are

                                      Chili Madness by Jane Butel
                                      The Chili Cookbook by Norman Kolpas
                                      Official Chili Cookbook by Martina and William Neely
                                      The All-American Chili Cookbook by Jenny Kellner and Richard Rosenblatt
                                      Hot and Spicy Chili by Dave DeWitt, Mary Jane Wilan and Melissa Stock

                                      1. Lots of ideas here, excellent replies.
                                        Whatever flavors, layering is key.
                                        Good chilies, ground, a blend of your own making.
                                        Nice browning of the meat.
                                        Deglazing the pan after browning.
                                        Pince, caramlized tomato paste (if you use tomatoes)
                                        Beans... if you want them, I like pinto or red, not kidney. I find them to be a creamier bean with a less harsh skin.
                                        Beef, quality. Either diced or a good large grind ground beef. or bison. or venison. or elk. I also add a quality beef stock, reduced.
                                        Keep it simple, with a variety of toppings (cheese, jalapenos, onion, corn chips, etc).
                                        Simmer long, and yes, make it yesterday as someone suggested.

                                        1. I like to use half beef and half pork, or just beef. Brow the meat with onion, garlic, diced ancient sweet red peppers (for some sweetness), and cumin (toasted, then ground in mortar and pestle or coffee grinder). The chile powder I usually make mostly from toasted ancho and cascabel, and sometimes a little New Mexico or California. For heat I use whatever sounds good, since I have a major stockpile of dried chiles and have a ton of fresh ones in the summer. I normally use chiltepin or pequin, and then some combination of red jalapenos, Trinidad scorpions, cayenne, 7 Pod, thai, black habaneros, etc. Whatever sounds good. I also add chicken stock or beef stock, a dark beer, Mexican oregano, a can of fire roasted tomatoes, and 5 or 6 chipotles with several tablespoons of adobo sauce. A little apple cider or white vinegar if I need to brighten it up a little, or some piloncillo, sugar, or agave if it's too bitter.

                                          1 Reply